What is Disruptive Marketing – And Seven Inspirational Examples to Help You Think Differently

by | Nov 17, 2017 | Branding, Digital Marketing, Marketing Strategy

Whether it was ancestry.com’s ad that talks about how we are all more alike than we might think (their ad features a room full of descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, or it’s Nike’s ad illustrating how female Arab athletes are breaking through traditional gender stereotypes, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some form of ad that broke from traditionally safe product-focused marketing and caught your attention.

This new resurgence of disruptive marketing is important today because—in a culture where “fake news” has become commonplace—it’s key to keep the conversation around social issues top of mind for viewers—and even more important for brands to connect themselves to worth-while causes.

So What is Disruptive Marketing (or Advertising)?

In short, disruptive ads or marketing is any creative advertising or marketing campaign that breaks out of the typical industry approach, and does so in a manner that cuts through the noise of today’s marketing.


Disruptive marketing upends the traditional mindsets about what a brand can be or where a product/service can go. It is unexpected and therefore cuts through the noise of the ‘usual stuff’ or ‘pretty interesting’ adverts and brand messaging that we’re accustomed to. It makes a splash, in a good way – like being hosed on a hot, sweaty afternoon rather than being puddle-soaked by an inconsiderate driver. It makes you feel good, it may validate what you’ve been feeling all this time, or it may be thought-provoking. Disruptive marketing gets attention and drives people to action.

Examples include flash mobs at malls and published to YouTube; 3D projections at high footfall areas to grab pedestrian attention; and mock protests, such as the Assassin’s Creed city protests that shook up high-traffic centers and garnered massive word-of-mouth.

Why Do You Need Disruption?

  • A study from two years ago claimed that humans have a lower attention span than goldfish. While we’re not trying to spend time on pointless tasks, we don’t want to waste the time we’re investing on things that aren’t worthwhile.
  • In the face of increasing business competition, disruptive marketing can create an initial impact that traditional methods fall short of achieving.
  • Traditional advertising is changing dramatically. Disruptive models are already here – Uber, Airbnb, FB, Alibaba, Netflix, Apple, Chipotle and Birchbox have created new segments or seized market share away from incumbents.
  • Disrupting marketing ensures greater exposure to ads on various channels and devices.
  • The advertising landscape has also become more competitive with the evolution of native advertising. But at the same time, there is immense potential to reach people across various channels, particularly online.
  • Consumers are savvy and appreciate creativity and innovation.
  • The technology to innovative and evolve/change brand direction is there; it’s a matter of leveraging technologies and channels.


Advantages of Disruptive Advertising

  • When done correctly, it resonates with people in a way tried-and-tested approaches may not.
  • It doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune. Many viral ads have been created with a few hundred or thousand dollars.
  • It is unique and has a first mover advantage. Those who try to imitate a disruptive ad are bound to be called out for their unoriginality.
  • It is brave, makes a point, gets attention and encourages action.
  • The risk pays off if your campaign is creative and well-researched.

Seven Awesome Disruptive Ad Campaigns

#1: Tetra Pak DreamCap Campaign

Tetra Pak’s direct mail and digital mail DreamCap campaign promoted its new resealable screw cap for its beverage containers. Instead of creating a general email campaign across all its audience segments, the processing and packaging company designed its campaigns around highly targeted segments. First, they divided into brands and retailers, and then into a number of specific categories such as health, sports, water, juice, breakfast, etc. Tetra Pak also sends prospects sample products with prospects’ logos on them to allow them to visualize their own brand experience.

A highly refined approach and emphasis on top prospects resulted in a 53% sign up with Tetra Pak sales representatives, a record for the company.


#2: Xerox and Brother Dominic Advert

Photocopying is a regular business function that is far from exciting. In their 1977 ‘Xerox Monks’ advertisement, Xerox found a compelling way to describe just what their product could achieve through Brother Dominic, who was given the big job of creating 500 copies of scriptures for his boss Brother Abbott. In the updated 2017 version, Brother Dominic has the more complex task of creating 500 copies that need to be translated into 35 different languages, and with Xerox’s help, he pulls it off with aplomb, using his keycard to print copies on paper, mugs and even sending them digitally. Xerox enhanced their original disruptive ad to improve people’s awareness around what their solutions could do in the millennium.

#3: The Mosaic Company’s The Great Yield Mystery

A leading producer of crop nutrients, The Mosaic Company made the farmer community sit up and take notice with their podcast, The Great Yield Mystery. Two elements were responsible for the pitch’s success: the drama format where two farmers wondered why the harvest was declining; and the interactive competition aspect that gave listeners a chance to solve a mystery by connecting the clues provided on the company’s website, social media and every podcast episode, and win prizes.

The podcasts attracted more than 2,000 listeners who also participated enthusiastically in solving the puzzles. Their engagement with the brand didn’t stop at the end of each podcast, rather continued and grew deeper through interactions across various brand touchpoints.


#4: Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This Jacket

Outdoor clothing company Patagonia applied reverse psychology with their ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ CTA and sure enough it worked. But they weren’t trying to psyche out people, rather communicate the meaningful message of don’t buy something you don’t need. At the same time, the company drew attention to its brand ethos of crafting outdoor gear that was hard-wearing and kind to the environment, and their other offering – a clothing repair service that allows customers to extend the usefulness of their Patagonia clothing. It was a brilliant move that reinforced brand values and increased customer desire to maintain their association with a company that didn’t veer from its mission.


#5: Dollar Shave Club’s YouTube Commercial

Dollar Shave Club (DSC), which was recently acquired by Unilever for $1 billion, shook up the men’s personal grooming domain with a funny and witty YouTube commercial (made with just a few thousand dollars) that communicated their USP of affordability, convenience and membership experience while also taking a bold swing at their much bigger competitor Gillette.

Besides the strength of the script, which included a bear, machete and an immigrant factory worker, delivered by DCS’s charismatic CEO Mike Dubin, the commercial worked because it (a) provided a real solution to the everyman problem of expensive razors in a casual, conversational voice that appealed to their male audience and (b) offered the opportunity to be part of an exclusive community that none of their other competitors had. It worked like magic, garnering millions of YouTube views and several thousand members in a few weeks following the launch.


#6: Singapore Red Cross’s Blood Ties Campaign

Blood donation drives typically focus on appealing to our Good Samaritan side, which has become so cliché that we don’t even bother to give the ads a second look. Singapore Red Cross (SRC) took a novel approach to their ‘Blood Ties’ campaign by focusing their message on the youth and giving it a fresh and peppy vibe that captured their audience’s imagination.

The campaign enlisted the help of local celebrities to create initial excitement. The ad copy comprised of celebrity selfies and interesting taglines; for instance, singer/actor Nathan Hartono’s was ‘I’ve got music in my blood. What’s in yours?’ while comedy king Rishi Budhrani’s was ‘I’ve got stand-up comedy in my blood. What’s in yours?’. The selfies were promoted on social media, and the public was encouraged to upload their own selfies with hashtags like #inmyblood, #bloodties and #sgredcross to spread campaign awareness.


#7: Dove’s Real Beauty

It’s been 17 years since Dove launched its ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, which attempted to understand women’s thoughts about beauty. Forward-thinking and unique in a world where beauty and personal grooming products focus wholly on looking, smelling and feeling good, and come across as superficial, Dove looked beyond looks and onto qualities such as confidence and women’s own perceptions about their beauty. Their ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ advertisement of women describing their appearances modestly to a forensic sketch artist versus the prettier versions described by others, went viral and won top advertising honors at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Dove developed the campaign after a study by their PR agency revealed that only 2 percent of women considered themselves beautiful. The company capitalized on the opportunity to empower women about outer and inner beauty by opening up conversations on the topic and making ordinary women feel special and beautiful.



In today’s fast-paced world where customer preferences and choices are evolving, it is unwise to play by an older set of marketing rules that have either exhausted audiences or no longer hold appeal for the Gen X and Gen Y experience-over-ownership seeking audiences. The best results are possible by collaborating with a digital marketing agency that understands what it means to be disruptive and has many tricks up its sleeves – besides copious creative energy – to create campaigns that deliver solid results.


Related Article Headline

CTA  Area Here